There’s still hope for survival of St. Pete’s only African-American museum

BY SAMUEL JOHNSON
SPECIAL TO THE COURIER

The fate of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is looking less gloomy as of late. St. Petersburg is poised to buy the Woodson museum property and then lease it back the museum, as is the case with many of the city’s other museums.

150327_florida02This move was announced this month by Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin during a press conference at the museum’s building, which is at the center of the dispute.

As the dust settles on the city’s proposal, the museum’s administration is reservedly upbeat about the future of the museum’s location.

The Florida Courier previously reported that the St. Petersburg Housing Authority voted in January to sell the building and put the museum on a six-month notice. This set off a chain of community pressure and support for the preservation of the museum.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor and members of Sen. Marco Rubio’s team also have weighed in on the current and future status of the museum.

Hope VI Grant
Ray Arsenault, University of South Florida professor of Florida History and Woodson museum board member, said closer examination by the Feds of key documents started the ball rolling in a positive direction. He said, “a Housing and Urban Development group came. They stated unequivocally that under the Hope 6 Grant… created and allowed us to have the museum.”

The initial charter, The Hope VI Grant, was the bedrock on which the Woodson Museum rested. In order to examine what exactly the legalese stipulated, the museum board needed a copy of the grant.

Just getting a copy of the Hope 6 grant proved a difficult task. Arsenault thinks he knows why.

“ It was just crazy that we were sort of being stonewalled. Being told, ‘Well, you can have the document, but it will cost you $500. So it was clear that someone didn’t want us to see it because I think it had certain statements in it that were to our favor in terms of maintaining it as a museum that it could not just be bought by somebody and turned into a restaurant or whatever.”

Centerpiece of trail
The future of the current location of the museum, the only African-American museum in St. Petersburg, seems rosier.

Terri Lipsey-Scott, the museum’s chair of the board, said despite the newfound optimism, the reality is that the museum is still on the verge of eviction.

She and the board is requesting a revisit of the housing authority vote. “We’re hopeful that the board will consider renewing or extending our lease agreement, but to this date it hasn’t been suggested,” she said.

The Woodson museum is located in what is called “The Deuces,” a historically Black neighborhood. It is one of the centerpieces of the St. Petersburg African-American Heritage Trail.

Strike’s staging ground
This trail, which crisscrosses along 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue South, details African-American historic buildings, people and events that helped shape the neighborhood.

Arsenault, who has been one of the expert advisors of the trail, said the building that houses the museum has a rich and important history.

“See, they tore down the original Jordan Park housing project and rebuilt it. The only thing they left standing was this community center, which is an historic building in its own right. It was the staging ground for the sanitation workers strike of 1968, which was really the biggest event in the Civil Rights Movement in St. Petersburg.”

A resolution to the museum’s crisis has not been finalized and the mid-July vacate date still stands.

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